Jonathan Vilma's Year-Long Suspension from NFL Lifted
- Saturday, September 08, 2012 7:40 PM
INDIANAPOLIS, USA (defend.ht) - 48-hours before the New Orleans Saints kickoff the NFL season, Jonathan Vilma's year long suspension from football was overturned unanimously by a three judge panel that found NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "overstepped his authority."
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Commissioner Roger Goodell had more than 50,000 documents in his possession that the appeals committee found to be insufficient in proving an intent to injure other players.
Coming just two days before the first full slate of NFL games this season, the ruling is a setback for Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league. But while the decision allows the players to rejoin their teams, it does not permanently void their suspensions.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Goodell would "make an expedited determination of the discipline imposed" for violating the league's bounty rule.
"Until that determination is made, the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend," Aiello said.
Vilma, who had been suspended the whole season, tweeted: "Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin"
The ruling also lifts suspensions on Scott Fujita and Will Smith but not New Orleans coach Sean Payton, suspended for the season, interim coach Joe Vitt (six games) or general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games).
While the panel did not address the merits of the NFL's bounty investigation, it found that Goodell overstepped his authority in hearing the players' appeals of their punishments for participating in the Saints bounty program, which paid cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents.
The panel's decision states that Special Master Stephen Burbank, not Goodell, should discipline players for receiving money from a pool that paid for big plays. Goodell's role, the panel said, should be limited to whether he can prove the players intended to injure opponents, which would fall in the category of conduct detrimental to the game. Players and coaches implicated in the bounty pool have testified under oath in a related federal court case they never intended to injure opposing players.
"Whether the commissioner tries to readdress the situation or not is his call," said Peter Ginsberg, Vilma's attorney. "We are certainly hoping the appeals board has made it clear the commissioner tried to grab jurisdiction and impose penalties over an area he does not have oversight. ... The factual record in the court makes it clear he has acted in a biased and inappropriate manner."
Vilma's status was not as clear. His season-long suspension began before training camp and he has been trying to work his way back from offseason surgery on his left knee.
Saints players had just finished practice when they received word of the panel's ruling.
"It's huge," said Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, a defensive captain. "Those are two huge leaders we've got. They're great players. We've got a talented team, but you add Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma, our talent level goes up that much. For our team, it's a break."
Even if Vilma could not play right away, Jenkins said his presence in the locker room and meetings would be valuable.
The appeals panel consisted of retired federal Judge Fern Smith of San Francisco, retired federal Judge Richard Howell of New York, and Georgetown professor James Oldham. It met in New York last week to hear arguments from the NFL Players Association, which appealed Burbank's ruling that Goodell had the authority to hear and rule on the players' appeals of their suspensions. NFL attorneys had asked the panel to affirm Burbank's ruling, but the panel sided in large part with the union.
The decision likely means that consolidated federal lawsuits brought against the NFL by Vilma and the NFLPA on behalf of the other three players are likely on hold until Goodell reissues punishment. It also spared U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan from having to decide before Sunday on a temporary restraining order requested by the players.
Related 06.11.2012: Vilma Expected to Meet with Goodell on Suspension Appeal
Source: FOX 8 Live